Page 6: Later life and achievement
Curnow, Thomas Allen Monro
Journalist, poet, writer, university professor
This biography, written by Terry Sturm, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
Selected poems (1990) consolidated Curnow’s reputation as a major poet writing in English, but despite the accolades he remained focused on each new poem, often worked on for months, and mostly published in the London Review of Books. Now in his 80s, Curnow remained an intensely private person, enjoying the company of family and relatives, and contact with a small number of longstanding friends, including Bill Pearson, the historian John Pocock, Douglas Lilburn, and the writer C. K. Stead (who lived opposite him in Tohunga Crescent). Curnow greatly respected Stead's comments on drafts of the later poems.
Awards and prizes
Allen Curnow published 21 volumes of poems, seven receiving New Zealand’s annual Poetry Award. Continuum (1988), containing new and collected later poems, received the Dillon’s Commonwealth Poetry Prize, and in 1989 he became only the second poet outside the United Kingdom to receive the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry. Made a CBE in 1986, he became a member of the Order of New Zealand in 1990.
Seville and London
In the 1990s, Curnow made two last trips overseas. In 1992, he attended EXPO in Seville at the New Zealand government’s invitation, and read at the Voice Box on the South Bank in London. In 1998, after the appearance of his last collection Early days yet (1997), he read at the International Poetry Festival at the South Bank Centre.
In 2001 Curnow’s last, award-winning volume of new poems, The Bells of Saint Babel’s, appeared.
In his later years Curnow seemed remarkably fit for his age, but it was sheer will power that kept him going, as ailments accumulated. He died suddenly at Auckland Hospital on 23 September 2001.
Sir Paul Reeves conducted his funeral service at St Mary’s in Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland and he was buried at Purewa Cemetery, Meadowbank.
Allen Curnow was one of New Zealand’s most significant literary figures, publishing numerous influential volumes of poetry. These, and the anthologies he compiled, had a major impact on the course of New Zealand poetry.